DEP closing 53 state parks? Not so fast, says Rep. Trudi Williams
The Department of Environmental Protection has proposed closing 53 of its 160 state parks, among other cutbacks in services, should the agency be required to slash 15 percent of its budget this year.
DEP's proposal, which would save about $47 million, was presented at Wednesday's House Agriculture and Natural Resources Approproations Subcommittee (look at pages 37-40). The proposals have become a common exercise for agencies amid the state's recent lean years.
Closing state parks with the lowest attendance and no camping facilities would save a quick $6.5 million, DEP said, but that would also mean the end of recurring revenues from those spaces. Here's a list of the parks, which includes Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park in Port Richey, Tampa's Ybor City Museum State Park and Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park in Islamorada.
Naturally, Audobon of Florida is not a fan. “These may be the least-visited state parks, but they are often a substantial contributor to Florida’s smallest and most rural communities,” wrote Julie Wraithmell, the group's wildlife conservation director, in a Friday news release. "Florida state parks also provide an outstanding, affordable recreational opportunity to Florida’s families—all the more important in the current economy.”
Fortunately for Audobon, neither is Rep. Trudi Williams, the subcommittee's Republican chairwoman from Fort Myers. Here's the chairwoman's e-mail to Buzz:
“With a 4 billion dollar budget shortfall, times are tough in the state of Florida. While I applaud DEP for their willingness to explore all avenues as a means to decrease our spending, I think that it is far too premature to conclude that 53 state parks will be closed in an effort retain an estimated 6.5 million dollars. When you consider the income that these parks bring in to the state and the quality of life that they afford our citizens, I would hope that there are other means in which we can responsibly cut back. It should be noted that this proposal was made by agency staff and before Secretary Vinyard was appointed, and therefore the priorities of Secretary Vinyard may not be reflected.”